It’s not all about being happy.

flowers

One thing I’ve come to notice more and more is the great difference between the end goal of the believer and the end goal of the unbeliever. When I ask my non-Christian friends what their purpose in life is, often the answer is to find happiness, to enjoy themselves. Sometimes Christians make the mistake to think that this goal of happiness is found once they commit themselves to Christ.

However, Christ spoke about the godly life not as one full of laughter and popularity, but instead of mourning, suffering and joy. In my own time I’ve been spending a lot of time dwelling on the great sermon that Jesus gave (Matthew 5-7), and it’s focus (so far) seems to be on a selfless life, not seeking your own enjoyment or fun. Our calling as Christians is to mourn our sinfulness and find comfort in Christ’s sinlessness, the fact that God so loved us, so drenched us in his mercy should flow out of our lives as we to seek to be merciful, loving and peace-keeping. That’s where our joy comes from, knowing the indescribable God and trusting him with our lives.

I’ve just got back from a youth camp where we looked deep into 1 Peter 1-2:12. I was struck by how very different we are called to be. Our new purpose is to “proclaim the excellencies of him who called [us] out of darkness into his marvelous light”(1 Peter 2:9). But does this mean we’ll be happy all the time, that God will grant us our every desire and wish? I don’t think so. Our hearts are so tainted by sin that often what we wish for is not what is best for us. Peter talks about the value of trials and suffering:

“You have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith-more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire-may be found to result in praise and glory and honour at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”
1 Peter 1:6-7

But God doesn’t leave us alone in our struggles but has given us each other, a support network. Following Christ isn’t an individualistic purpose but a collective one, we are ” a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession”. Together we strive to live for him.

So this leads me to my challenge. The mantra at our church is to be “Real with God, real with the world and real with each other.” It is so easy to be swayed by the world’s ideal of happiness and to pretend that you’re not struggling, to have the external appearance of ‘satisfaction’, ‘contentment’ and happiness. But is that beneficial? I don’t think so. We all fail, we all struggle, we all sin. How much greater would it be if we supported each other, encouraged each other in these things rather than having an individualistic approach?
Let’s be a community honest about our failings and praising in our Saviours perfection. Striving towards holiness together.

“Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind…..Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy…For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.”
1 Peter 3:8,15,17

Beautiful, but Deadly.

Courtesy to Mathiole (DevientArt)

So many things in this world are aesthetically pleasing but potentially deadly. Brightly coloured plants, flowers and animals scatter the earth that could end our lives if we made direct contact. Often I marvel at these things in creation, beautifully and wonderfully made by my opinion.

They also come to mind when I consider the spread of the gospel. Throughout Paul’s letters in the New Testament he often warns new churches against sugar-coated messages. The genius that allows these messages to survive is that they contain just enough of the truth within them that they could be seen as plausible despite being spiritually deadly. We live in a time where “people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suite their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” (2 Timothy 4:3-4)

I see these churches that include false messages and promises growing rapidly. People are drawn to them because they appeal to their passions. Often these churches grow faster and larger than those that preach the straight truth.

Why is that? Wouldn’t people want to hear the truth? The gospel is essentially offensive. Since “the god of this world has blinded the minds of unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel”(2 Cor 4:4) we can often be discouraged by our efforts to spread the word in light of the growth in these other churches. But Paul urges that since “this ministry is by the mercy of God, we of not lose heart. But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.” (2 Corinthians 4:1-3).

In sadness I have seen friends committing their lives to Christ in these churches that have promised things such as healing, earthly comfort and wealth and on seeing none of these fulfilled have been disoriented, discouraged and essentially lost all confidence in our Lord. So I urge you, as Paul does in his letters to “always be sober-minded, endure suffering, so the work of an evangelist, fulfil your ministry.” (2 Tim 4:5). Be aware of the teachings in your church and test them against the word of God.

As an interesting aside, if this interests you, Cole Brown has written a short and relevant account of his challenge to his church. It’s called Lies My Pastor Told Me, Cole pulls apart these lies, often common amongst these churches, using  gospel evidence. Check it out, the e-book is free to download here.

The Moon Is Round

A 14 year old girl who was slowly decaying from cancer was asked by her family to keep a journal. When she died, they found a note that said: “The moon is round.” As they read your journal they learnt that she meant that even when you can only see a sliver of the moon, you still know it is round. In the same way, she knew that even though she couldn’t fully understand what was going on, that God was sovereign.

That was an illustration in a talk over KEC 2012 that I was really encouraged by. I went back this year to yet again serve the senior high kids and they in turn were such an encouragement to me. One of them said one day, that in our busy city lives, when we look up at the stars we can’t see them. But when you strip away the busyness, head out into the country and lie in the middle of a field, all the glory of God’s creation is stretched out before you and you can’t help but marvel. I was so encouraged to not let my earthly life cloud my vision of God’s immense holiness and wonder.

As we sat together under the word of God we were blown away by the infinite becoming intimate as God transfers his holiness to us as we are made right by God and for God. (Isaiah 6:1-9). And how perceiving truly his holiness we should be driven to our deeds as we see the horror of our sin. We learnt how unfair the truth is. That Christ would lovingly save his enemies from what they deserved, so that we can have no punishment, no penalty but peace (Romans 5:1-11). So that even in suffering, we can have tears of joy, knowing we are united in Christ and that even our sin and shame can’t prevent him from loving us.

Even though God will continue to forgive us our sins, this grace is not a licence to sin. Instead, the old person that we were is crucified along with Christ so that we bear condemnation no more. We are made a new creation, born again, united with Christ in his resurrection. Our new selves are called to do things that are not to our earthly advantage, but these earthly risks are for eternal values. No longer does God dwell separate from us but instead with us, as the Holy Spirit, no longer slaves to sin, we are empowered to face and overcome sin. (Romans 6:1-14)

We have a God who is faithful to his promises, Merciful to his people and so we endure in the hope we have been given and are driven to share that hope.

As we were talking in our discussion group, someone said, “But we’re young and often I don’t feel equipped to tell people what I believe.” Someone pulled out Job 32:6-10:

“And Elihu the son of Barachel the Buzite answered and said:
I am young in years,
and you are aged;
therefore I was timid and afraid
to declare my opinion to you.
I said,’Let days speak,
and many years teach wisdom.’
But it is the spirit in man,
the breath of the Almighty, that
makes him understand.
It is not the old who are wise,
nor the aged who understand what
is right.
Therefore I say, ‘Listen to me;
let me also declare my opinion.’

He gives and He takes away.

Something that has really struck me over the past week or so is the combination of God’s sovereignty and human suffering. As I’ve started reading through Job, looking into common lies taught in churches and heard some bad news I’ve come to face the reality that God controls all.

Good news, or bad news first? Let’s start with the bad. Just a few days ago I heard news that a young girl, the sister of one of my old friends, suicided. I can’t say I’ve faced this before. I thought about writing a post about suicide, but what can you say? Not much in the way of practical methods or understanding in order to deal with it.

Here’s the good news: That’s when I realised what God had been showing me and teaching me in the lead up. I’ve been reading up on awful misinterpretations of the Bible and how these are used (very often in fact) in churches. I was planning a few blog posts on these. One of them, just to spoil the surprise, is the idea that “God heals those who have faith”. Without going into too much detail, this claim essentially renders sick people as without faith and without the Holy Spirit. Which is evidently wrong. It claims that the more faith you have, the more healthy you will be. But God doesn’t promise us any of this, in fact, many of the apostles (Paul and Timothy) were sick and were not healed despite their prayers. Instead of health on earth, God promises us spiritual health and that he will get rid of physical sickness and death when he returns.

“So it will be with the resurrection ofthe dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable,; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.” 1 Corinthians 15:42-44a.

Secondly, I’ve been reading through Job. Job was this guy that feared and respected God, and was blessed with material wealth – he had lots of stuff, heaps of kids and was known for it. But get this, God says to Satan:

“Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?”

Job 1:8

God suggests Job to Satan. And Satan’s response is he’s great and all ” But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.” (v10). So God takes him on his claim and gives Job over to Satan: “all that he has in in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand.” (v12) So off goes Satan and he takes everything that Job has, his stuff burns down, all his kids are killed, his family is destroyed. He has nothing left but himself. And what does he say? Surely, he would prove Satan right.

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”

Job 1:21

Strange, right? But it makes sense. All those things were given to him as gifts, he existed before them. They were given by God and thus, God has the ability to take them away. Not only this, but he praises God.

Job’s hardship continues as Satan plagues him with illness. Jobs friends come to comfort him but all they can do is sit “with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, for they saw that his suffering was very great.” (2:13).

That’s as far as I’ve read in Job, but I am just so grateful that God is working even in suffering. That even before it happened he directed my attention to these things. He has challenged me to praise him as Job does, because everything on this earth is an undeserved gift, that he can easily and rightfully take away.

Yet another Fresh Start…

For the past two years I’ve ended the year and started the new year on beach mission, finishing and beginning with actively proclaiming the word. Mission is a great opportunity that I would encourage you to embrace. This year it really reminded me of the urgency with which I should be telling others what I live for and the hope it offers them too, particularly those close to me.

Living for 2 weeks amongst an amazingly encouraging group of people, determined to serve and build each other up was a truly a taste of heaven. We spent solid time in the Bible and in prayer, learning and growing together.

As we built relationships with the community in the van park, I was really struck by how little they knew about what Christ did for them! Having grown up in a Christian family, I think I grew accustomed to some dangerous assumptions. To me it is by Christ that “all things were created…..and he is before all things and in him all things hold together.” Colossians 1:16-17. It just struck me that this is so foundational to reality that everyone should know it too! It is Christ who made peace by the blood of his cross. (Colossians 1:20). Not only is Christ creator and sustainer but also Saviour.

A few people that I got to know over mission had lost faith because of suffering that they couldn’t make sense of, which is something that I haven’t really yet faced. It reminded me of the brokenness of the world now and the perfection of the life to come, promised only in Christ. Giving up on Jesus in times of suffering is not the right response, because it is in him that we have hope for a time when it will no longer be there. Suffering is a reminder that the world isn’t right, but as a believer I “rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith – more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire – may be found to result in praise and glory and honour at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” 1 Peter 1:6-8. So I’ll keep those people in my prayers, that as they come across these struggles that they’ll come to find satisfaction in Christ.

Another thing I was challenged by on mission was the idea of glory now or glory later. That in “whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord.” Colossians 3:23-24. I’m so conscious of other people and what they think of me, it’s so easy to fall into the trap of a selfish attitude of self glorification. Over mission I was struck by how our team worked so hard to serve each other, not for their own glory, but purely out of love and a desire to serve God.

So there’s my super quick ramblings on what I learnt over mission. As much as people think they can just make “a fresh start” at the beginning of every year, the only true fresh start comes when you give up your old self and take on a new identity in Christ (Colossians 2). I hope and pray that my year will be one of transformation as Christ continues to teach me his ways and I continue to entrust myself to him.